03/28/2013 1:05PM

NHC Tour's David quickly makes name for himself

Larry David is the first player to qualify twice in the same year for the NHC.

Larry David of Santa Rosa, Calif., isn’t famous − yet.

He has the same name as the comedian/writer/actor who was the co-creator of “Seinfeld” and then went on to create his own show, “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” which is still on HBO and in syndication. But if both Larry Davids were to show up to a horse handicapping tournament, I would put my money on the non-TV star to get the most attention. He is the first to qualify twice in the same year for the Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping finals.

In the first 14 years of the NHC, horseplayers could earn only one berth to play in the finals. This year the NTRA is allowing people to qualify twice to have an extra entry on championship weekend, which is being expanded to a three-day tournament. The top contestants from the first two days will move to the third day, including a “final table” and a shot at the top prize of $750,000 from the expected $1.5 million purse.

David, 49, has been a truck driver, sold cars, and worked in gas stations and retail sales. In the early 1990s, he served in the Army, with stops at Johnston Atoll, about 860 miles west of Hawaii on a coral reef platform in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and Fort Benning in Georgia. Asked how he felt to be the first double qualifier in NHC history, he invoked his famous namesake by saying: “Pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty good.”

David is a huge horse racing fan, and he is not shy about lifting his shirt to prove it. Between his shoulder blades is a tattoo of the old red Daily Racing Form logo. His dad first took him to the track when he was 10, and he began to follow the sport more closely after getting out of the Army in 1995.

“When I really got into racing after the service, I would get the DRF every day,” he said. “I could have done a horse tattoo but decided on the DRF logo because it’s just a part of my daily life. I sometimes even read it just for the articles, even if I’m not handicapping any races that day.

“I talked with this well-known tattoo artist in Santa Rosa named Joe Leonard of Monkey Wrench Tattoo over a couple of years before I finally decided to have it done in 2007,” he said. “I was going to just do a smaller one, but he said it would be too hard for people to see the detail, so we went with the one that’s six inches wide.”

David said it took just 50 minutes, plus he had to go back and get it re-inked to get the color just right. He said the most fun he had with the tattoo was going to the 2008 Breeders’ Cup when he cut a hole in the back of a dress shirt and was able to just remove his jacket to show the tattoo to people.

“It was such a great time,” said David, who is considering another tattoo of Secretariat as drawn by legendary DRF cartoonist PEB. “It was a source of great pleasure to show it to people and have them get such a kick out of it. This sport is all about having fun.”

As much as David loves horse racing, he didn’t really get into the handicapping tournament circuit until recently. He says he did well in a contest in 1998 at the Jockey Club at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds and played a handful of contests in 2007, but he didn’t go out of his way for any and wasn’t part of the online boom of the NHC Tour until early in 2012. He said he started playing contests at publichandicapper.com, and some success there led him to try qualifying for the NHC. He made it on his sixth try last year Aug. 12, when he finished fourth at NHCqualify.com.

“I had a great time at my first NHC finals at the Treasure Island in January, but maybe too good of a time,” he said. “I found it hard to concentrate. It was a learning experience. I’ll be more focused next time.”

After NHC 14, David went ahead and paid the $50 annual NHC Tour membership that is required to qualify for the finals, but he wasn’t sure how much of the Tour he would actually do. He didn’t know if he would enter enough contests to have a chance at any of the big prizes, such as the $75,000 that goes to the NHC Tour champion and the $2 million bonus if the champ wins the NHC finals. Even worse, his dad had become ill with congestive heart failure, and he had since moved to Sunnyvale, Calif., to take care of him.

On Saturday, Feb. 2, David paid $165 to play in the one-day event at NHCqualify.com, which gave away five spots to NHC 15. David earned one of them by finishing second out of 300 players. He had five winners out of his 12 contest plays, with three of them under $8. The highest price he hit was on Falling Sky ($17.80) in Tampa Bay’s ninth race.

“Sometimes in tournaments people ignore the favorites, but a lot came in that day. I was in 10th going into the final race and then hit the final race,” he said, referring to Ivanho, who paid $15.60 to win and $9.40 to place in Santa Anita’s seventh race, “to finish second and clinch my return trip to the NHC finals.”

The next weekend, on Sunday, Feb. 10, David entered a qualifying tournament at horsetourneys.com that was giving away four NHC berths.

“That was my first time playing at that site, and I normally wouldn’t have thought about entering that contest,” David said, “but I kept thinking it would be cool to be the first to qualify twice.”

It didn’t start out so well. After being blanked in the first six races, David said he put in some picks and left the house for a while.

“I came back and had moved all the way up to second place,” he said. “In the last race [Santa Anita’s ninth], there were three horses vying for favoritism at 2-1, 3-1, and 7-2, and I went with the 2-1 [Racy Rosa, who paid $6.60 to win]. I ended up fourth, and if I used either of the other horses I would have finished fifth and just missed qualifying again.”

“That’s history,” David said. “No one can take that away from me,” quick to point out that he’s not trying to sound cocky but just proud of his accomplishment and being part of the NHC family.

But he said the best part about being the first to qualify twice was that he did it in front of his dad, a feeling he described as “exhilarating.”

David’s back-to-back runner-up efforts put him atop the NHC Tour leaderboard with 4,200 points based on a sliding scale based on a player’s finish in qualifying tournaments. Full details on the scoring system can be found at ntra.com/nhctour. David has since dropped to third behind Stephen Thompson (4,481) and David Snead (4,229) in the standings through last weekend.

In addition to the year-end prizes, the NHC Tour also has “first half” prizes awarded to the leaders at the end of July: $10,000 goes to the leader, down through $1,000 for eighth place. Another new rule this year is that one of a player’s scores must be earned at a live tournament on site such as at a racetrack, OTB, or casino, as opposed to online.

“Being in the lead so early, I kind of put myself in a position where I have to take a chance and enter more tournaments to go for that prize money,” David said. “I’m also looking at more live tournaments since they require one of your scores come from those.

“Since I already know that I’ll have two entries in the NHC finals next January, I also need to practice playing with two entries,” he said. “I’ve done it a few times before, but my results haven’t been very good. I’m looking for more contests that allow multiple entries so I can experiment with some strategies.”